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Light of the World

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How does one reconcile a passage like Jesus saying “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12) and “Ye are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14)?. Augustine in his De doctrina christiana III, mentions a rule of interpretation from Tyconius wherein it is stated that there are passages that refer to someone as to its head at one moment and then to others as its body at another. The passages mentioned above fit the description of this particular rule. Christ calls himself “light of the world” as Head of his Body (the Church) which He also calls “light of the world.” Thus the description “light of the world” applies to the Total Christ, as Head and Body.

Below is an illustration of how those two passages can be profitably used in meditation a la Guy the Carthusian, to explore how Christ and His Body are light. Click on the thumbnail for a bigger view.

Click for a bigger view

One can begin the exploration with the passage “God is Light” (1 Jn. 1:5) and from there move on to the initial declaration of John about the Word of God made flesh “the true light which enlightens everyone (Jn. 1:9).” From here, the declaration of Jesus himself during the Feast of the Dedication (the Jewish Hannukah): “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (Jn. 8:12)” The last part of a (baptismal ?) ritual pronouncement quoted in Eph. 5:14 recalls how the Light that is Christ shines on those “who sit in darkness”: “Awake O Sleeper, arise from the dead and Christ shall give you light.” One of the sayings from Matthew 6:22 is baptismal in essence: the eye becomes sound through faith. This idea is behind the narratives about people who regained sight: Bartimaeus, the man born blind (John 9), the two disciples walking to Emmaus (whose eyes were prevented from recognizing the Lord on the way) and Paul himself who during a baptismal rite regained his sight.

It is after receiving light from Christ that the disciples (the Church) become “light of the world” in their turn. The baptismal rite (in the Roman Catholic Church) includes a portion where the Easter vigil is recalled. Here, the light of the Paschal candle, symbol of Christ, is passed on to other candles that become the source of light for others as well. Thus in symbolic way, the light of faith is handed on by one “touched by Christ” to another in a chain of “traditioning” through the centuries.

Two texts, one from Paul (Eph. 5:8) and the other from Peter (1 Peter 2:9) tell us how the Church is “light of the world.” Finally, since Christ is the true light that shines on all men (Jn. 1:9) and since He is the main content of apostolic preaching, Peter can very well say: “We have the prophetic message … be attentive to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pt. 1:19). Thus, the event that is Christ passes on to proclamation and to the gathering of peoples, congregation” which in turn become an event — a happening — in our own times.

Update: February 24

An article on John 9:1-41 (The Man Born Blind) is now available at Otium Sanctum. You can find it here.

Originally posted 2008-01-30 20:08:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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